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Thyatian "Republicanism"

by James Ruhland

"All politics is local." Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neil.

Well, as you can see in the "Government" post, the Thyatian Imperial Government has several elective aspects which, on the surface, would appear broadly democratic1, almost Milenian. For example:

One might describe the Thyatian Imperial Government as a "Parliamentary Imperium," or at least a "Constitutional Monarchy." However, this would be deceptive. The strength of the Imperial office is such that in practice, at the highest levels of government, these electoral procedures are almost moot. For example, though the Emperor must submit 3 candidates to the religious hierarchy, and they select the Patriarch, in practice the Emperor submits "his" candidate and two non-entities, men that the Clerics would never vote for, thus subverting the process. Only the most principled of Emperors follows through with the spirit of this process, and the Clerics have grown so accustomed to their role as a "rubber stamp" of the Emperor's choice that they rarely raise any objections2.

Similarly, with the Senate, the Imperial Veto power over laws is almost absolute, and "regulations" drafted by the Ministries are enforced as if they had the power of law. The Senate can act as kind of a "Supreme Court" practising "constitutional review" over such regulations, and obviating them, but in practice this is rarely successful. The Senate may control the tax code, but it is largely in place by the 11th century. In order to change the tax structure, the Senate must pass legislation to do so. If the Emperor does not like the changes, he will simply veto the measure.

So, then, is the Senate powerless in the face of Imperial power? Not quite. Most Senators are highly respected and influential men (and women), members of the Dynastic Houses of the Empire. They are individuals of prominence, and the Emperor ignores their opinions at his peril. Many are not only Senators, but members of the Imperial Government. Their influence can be very significant. But it is not an influence based on elective office. This is the influence of an aristocracy, which "popular election" merely confers legitimacy upon.

Th provincial civil and military governors are not elected. They are appointed by the Emperor, and their nominations ratified by the Senate. These offices are non-hereditary, but members of prominent families3 fill most of them, and they have wide powers in their own provinces.

On the other hand, though, the further down the hierarchy one goes, the more "democratic" things seem to get. For example, though the Eparch of Thyatis is appointed by the Emperor (and responsible, among other things, for the day-to-day administration of the capital), the guild leaders which report to him are selected by the guild's membership. Also, the 4 "Demarchs" of Thyatis the City are elected by the citizenry4, as are the Ward Archons (28 in Thyatis the City, 1 for each Ward). The more localised the authority is, the more "democratic" the office seems to be. Ward Archons are very responsive to their constituency.

Other Thyatian cities have their assemblies ("Curia"), which usually have an elective membership (prominent local citizens), and they are responsible for conducting local administration (sub-provincial level). Villages could almost be called "participatory democracies"; there is usually an (informal) headman, recognised and selected by the village as a whole, but important decisions are handled communally.

However, this "small democracy" is somewhat threatened. The Dynastic families, seeking to increase their own power, often attempt to subvert its procedures, just as the Emperor subverts the "republican" features of the Thyatian constitution6 at the Imperial level. The central government, for its own reasons (mainly to keep the power of the Dynatoi in check) opposes this, formulating regulations and pushing for laws that would prevent this growth of dynastic power at the expense of "the weak7". Under a strong emperor, a rough balance is maintained. The ascension of a weak one, or a series of them, could see an unchecked rise in the power of the Dynastic Houses, the weakening of local institutions and the central government, and create powerful centrifugal forces.

1This is an "unByzantine" aspect of my variant, more in line with Rome under the Augustan Principate system. However, there are several ways that I "Byzantinise" it, and X1 did refer to Thyatis as similar to both Rome and Byzantium, so I have a mix.
2And, on the occasion that they do, it us usually over the nature of the individual the Emperor has selected as "his" candidate, not over the atrophied procedure itself.
3The "Dynastic Houses" again. Note however that the status of a "Dynastic House" is not an "official" one. Powerful and prominent families can fall from membership if they dissipate their wealth and influence, and "new" houses of importance can rise if they acquire wealth and power. No hereditary claim to title or wealth is conferred by virtue of membership in a "Dynastic House". In that sense the Thyatian aristocracy is somewhat "meritocratic", since fortunes rise or fall based on success or failure in the "real world", not accident of birth. But, on the other hand, some families have had "Dynastic" status for centuries.
4The city has 28 Wards, divided into 4 Sections, Red, Blue, Green, and White. Each Section elects a Demarch. Demarchs are somewhat like "commissioners" of New York, and perform a lot of local administration, including, for example, being responsible for organising the cites militia. The Guild Leaders form a sort of "City Council" in some respects, and most Thyatians (of the City) are members of a Guild. Wards average around 20,000 population, a fair sized city in and of themselves by Mystaran standards, and the Ward Archons are effective "mayors" over their Ward.
6The "Thyatian Constitution", like the British one, is unwritten, with many of its aspects enshrined in laws, custom, and tradition, but not in one document like the US Constitution.
7This tension is similar to that of 10th and 11th century Byzantium. There is also an important tension between the "civil faction" and the "military faction" which I will get to subsequently, when I describe the Dynatoi and faction in general.